Social networking: an authoritative guide

What does ‘social networking’ mean to you? Loads of users freeloading on the company bandwidth? Opening gaping holes in the corporate firewall? Having to support a raft of new software over which you have little control? Or boosting employees’ innovation and productivity? Or something else?

Whatever you think, whether pro or anti, you might find a new book by IBMer Rawn Shah a convenient guide to the massive array of options that face you and your organisation should you be considering its introduction. And, if you’ve already taken the plunge, you’re likely to extract even more value from his words. The book packs 350 pages’ worth of information into just 162. It’s a dense, but highly structured, read. Fortunately, while IBM/Lotus gets the odd look in, the book is bigger than that. It is called ‘Social Networking for Business‘.

Shah slices and dices business social networking, looking at the various types, uses, cultures, participants, leadership styles, monitoring metrics and more. Most of the chapters do what they say on the tin, so to speak, but the final one on ‘Social Computing Value’ falls strangely short. It seems to be more a reprise of the whole book than a particular focus on value, which is a shame. And why wasn’t it called ‘Social Networking Value’ to reflect the book title? (Could this have been a last minute rename from ‘In conclusion’? Because that’s how it reads.)

Don’t let this detract from the usefulness of the book, especially to those responsible for introducing and supporting social networking, and that has to include IT, even if it is actually only driving it in two percent of cases. Someone has to understand all the nuances of the various approaches and options, and it strikes me that IT needs to be influencing, making sure that wise choices are being made. This book is a road map. It’s highly business focused and parts of it will annoy some of the social networking gurus who favour anarchy over traditional business processes. The truth is that you really need both, but you need a guide to how to balance them successfully. This book lays out the issues clearly, although you occasionally have to wait a few pages between the upside and the downside of certain things – the danger of community managers being management stooges or the possibility of users ‘gaming’ the metrics, for example.

The tables in the book are very useful, as much for their structure as for their content. This is where the slicing and dicing takes place most evidently. The author identifies six types of social media experience. He then identifies the players (owners/leaders, visitors/members and sponsors/organisation) and how they might benefit from each type. He maps the experiences to five leadership styles. He takes a look at different models of social tasks (idea generation, co-development, distributed human computation and so on) and identifies the beneficiaries, how the information is aggregated and the styles of experience and leadership. All the time his narrative provides depth and illustration through real life examples; fifty in all.

After a while you start to wonder whether we’re turning into cyborgs – half machine and half man. We’re being used to do stuff the computer can’t do then pop the outcomes into the machine where they can be pored over, analysed and linked. Sure, they can help the business process through more rapid decision-making but they also create a mirror of those parts of our brains that we’ve chosen to make public. We can change jobs but part of us remains locked in the machine. Sorry, getting carried away there. That was triggered by the chapter on content creation, generation, tagging, filtering and so on.

You’ve probably heard enough to know whether this would be a welcome addition to your bookshelf. This blog post merely skims the surface of what is a sober analysis of the issues you and your organisation might face when deciding whether to introduce a social element either internally, externally or across the boundary of your organisation. It doesn’t stop with the mechanics and the players; it gets into soft stuff like culture and motivation and hard stuff like measurement and metrics. It goes into the hows and whys of implementation and the likely take-up by different kinds of participants.

It’s an intelligent and well-written book. Because of its density, you’ll need to set aside more time than normal for reading 162 pages. At the end of it though, you’ll know better than most, exactly what social networking is and how to make the most sensible decisions for its implementation in your organisation. It doesn’t matter whether you agree with the content or not. Shah has done an excellent job of parsing the possibilities.

2 thoughts on “Social networking: an authoritative guide

  1. thanks, David, for the book review – it looks like a useful read and fits in with research I am currently doing. I’ve put in an order for it with Amazon. Other readers might like to know it is currently half price from Amazon (£10.50).

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